Well, well, well. Who saw this coming? Chelsea sat in 17th place after five games, losing as many matches in that time as they did during the entirety of their title-winning heroics last season.
There was always a danger of not emulating the scintillating start they enjoyed to kick off the 2014/15 campaign, but no one would have predicted that the reigning champions would find themselves 11 points off the early pace setters, Manchester City, at such an early stage of the season.
So, what’s up at Stamford Bridge? Problems on and off the pitch appear to have affected team morale, with confidence at an all-time low. Let’s have a closer look at a couple of those issues:
- Off-field drama distracting the team?
The ongoing feud between Jose Mourinho and club physio Eva Carneiro has surely had some effect on the squad, with speculation that many feel the manager was wrong to publicly humiliate the first team doctor and not issue a subsequent apology for the hostile touchline confrontation. For those that haven’t seen the incident, Eden Hazard, the most-fouled player in the Premier League last season, was on a typical weaving run at the Swansea defence in their season opener before being chopped down. With Chelsea already down to ten men following Thibaut Courtois’ straight red, any medical attention from the club trainers would require Hazard to receive treatment away from play and leave just nine Chelsea players on the pitch.
With referee Michael Oliver appearing to call on the medical staff, Hazard was indeed required to go to the touchline, causing Mourinho to launch an ugly verbal attack on the club trainers, in particular at first-team doctor, Eva Carneiro. The manager claimed his medical staff needed to have a better understanding of the game, and see that Hazard was just ‘tired’ and not in fact injured, despite footage appearing to show the player signalling for assistance. Carneiro has been banned from the dugout ever since, and is now threatening to sue Mourinho if she cannot rightfully retain her position at the club. What true impact this saga has had on the team we cannot know for sure, but it will certainly have caused unwanted attention at a time when results weren’t coming on the pitch.
- Under-performing players
Despite causing several of the club’s headaches this season, Mourinho is also undoubtedly being let down by his players. Several linchpins of the 2014/15 title-winning side have found themselves bang out of form at the start of this season. Defensive stalwart Branislav Ivanovic has been run ragged by opposition wingers time after time, whilst Cesc Fabregas has been largely ineffective in midfield, showing none of the creativity he displayed so frequently in the previous campaign. It is thought Mourinho’s decision to give his players an extra week off before returning to pre-season training has backfired, with the squad not at the same physical level of their opposition as a result. Chelsea have certainly appeared sluggish, showing an openness at the back not usually associated with the typically defensively-secure Mourinho side, letting in 12 goals in the first five matches.
It’s when the going gets tough like this that the big characters must stand up in the dressing room and help to get things back on track. Perhaps Chelsea are lacking those figures, with long-term servants Didier Drogba and Petr Cech having left the club at the end of last season. It’s a sign of a good team when they can win without playing well; something Sir Alex Ferguson was famous for during his tenure at Old Trafford. But Chelsea are doing neither at the moment, and find themselves with a huge mountain to climb to even get close to being back in the mix to challenge for the title. You could also argue that the club’s relatively quiet summer in terms of transfers is showing up now, with the two Manchester rivals both benefiting from strengthening their respective squads.
Mourinho claims there isn’t anyone more capable of doing his job, and I’m inclined to agree with him. But results have got to come quickly if Chelsea are not to lose even more ground on City in the title race. For now, fans of rival clubs will continue to make jokes about needing an iPhone 6 to see where the Blues are in the league table without scrolling down the screen.
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